Crisp, Golden Quelite Fishless Tacos Are Even Better than Fish Tacos

published Sep 15, 2022
Taco de Quelite Estilo Baja (Quelite Fishless Taco)

Huauzontle and squash blossoms are breaded and fried until crisp in this plant-based riff on Baja-style fish tacos.

Serves4 to 6

Makes12 tacos

Prep35 minutes to 40 minutes

Cook20 minutes to 25 minutes

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Someone picking up huauzontle fish taco.
Credit: Photo: Yudi Ela Echevarria; Food Stylist: Ashley Nevarez; Prop Stylist: Nidia Cueva

In San Diego, my hometown, taco Tuesday is synonymous with 99-cent fish tacos, Ensenada-style. The cool diced salsa and julienned cabbage give a refreshing contrast to the fried strips of tilapia, and a swipe of glossy chipotle mayo ties it all together with a creamy hint of smoke. Fish tacos are so common in the city that they’ve become an emblem of San Diego culture, and one of the best tacos you can find in the city, hands-down. 

When my partner and I first went vegan almost six years ago, we kissed fish tacos goodbye, but his family had other plans, surprising us with a full spread of cauliflower and zucchini fishless tacos that they call better-than-fish tacos. If you’ve ever been vegan or vegetarian, then you know the warm, glowing feeling that erupts when someone goes out of their way to include you around the table. This experience never left us, and since then, we too have made fishless tacos at home. 

Credit: Photo: Yudi Ela Echevarria; Food Stylist: Ashley Nevarez; Prop Stylist: Nidia Cueva

In this recipe, I’ve used two of my favorite quelites in place of fish: huauzontle and squash blossoms. Huauzontle, a cousin of amaranth, grows on thick stems with sprouting tender bundles of bushy florets that are reminiscent of broccolini — a good substitute if you can’t find huauzontle (add zucchini to the list too). Typically, in prehispanic and modern-day Mexican cuisine, huauzontle is boiled before frying because otherwise it can be quite bitter. I forgo this step, opting instead for the delicious, earthy grassiness that comes through ever-so-daintily after the fry. 

Squash blossoms are no stranger to being fried, and with their golden-crisp and succulent bite, they make for the perfect quelite for this dish. Treat each quelite as a separate “fish” to appreciate their flavors and textures, or enjoy them together in combination for a bit of contrast.

The fishless taco is a humble and versatile dish in the rolodex of vegan Mexican cuisine — a host of vegetables can easily be fried and snuggled inside the fold of a tortilla and dressed with traditional crudité toppings. The only hard-and-fast rule here is one irreplaceable ingredient that makes this fishless taco taste like the real deal: a fizzy Mexican lager. 

Taco de Quelite Estilo Baja (Quelite Fishless Taco)

Huauzontle and squash blossoms are breaded and fried until crisp in this plant-based riff on Baja-style fish tacos.

Prep time 35 minutes to 40 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes to 25 minutes

Makes 12 tacos

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the salsa:

  • 2

    medium heirloom tomatoes (about 1 pound total)

  • 1/2

    medium white onion

  • 1/2

    medium English cucumber

  • 1/2 bunch

    fresh cilantro

  • 2

    medium serrano peppers

  • 1

    medium lime

  • Kosher salt

For the toppings and chipotle mayonnaise:

  • 1/4

    small red or green cabbage (about 12 ounces)

  • 1

    large ripe avocado

  • 4

    medium limes, divided

  • 1/2 cup

    vegan mayonnaise

  • 1 tablespoon

    canned chipotle adobo sauce

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • Hot sauce (optional)

For the tacos:

  • 4 cups

    water

  • 2 tablespoons

    plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

  • 1

    medium huauzontle (1 to 2 ounces)

  • 12

    squash blossoms

  • 2 cups

    all-purpose flour, divided

  • 1 tablespoon

    cornstarch

  • 2 teaspoons

    mushroom umami powder with salt

  • 2 teaspoons

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 12 ounces

    cold pilsner or lager beer (1 1/2 cups)

  • 1 cup

    neutral oil for frying, such as safflower

  • 12

    small corn or flour tortillas

Instructions

Make the salsa:

  1. Prepare the following, placing each in the same medium bowl as it is completed: Dice 2 medium heirloom tomatoes (about 2 cups), 1/2 medium white onion (about 1 cup), and 1/2 medium English cucumber (about 1 1/2 cups). Finely chop the leaves and tender stems of 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro (about 1/2 cup). Trim the stems from 2 medium serrano peppers, halve lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Finely chop the serranos (about 2 tablespoons).

  2. Squeeze the juice from 1 medium lime into the bowl (about 2 tablespoons) and stir to combine. Taste and season with kosher salt as needed.

Make the toppings and chipotle mayonnaise:

  1. Prepare the following, placing each in its own bowl or in separate piles on a platter: Cut the core from 1/4 medium head red or green cabbage, then cut crosswise into fine shreds. Halve, pit, and peel 1 large avocado, then thinly slice. Quarter 3 of the medium limes.

  2. Squeeze the juice from the remaining 1 medium lime into a small bowl (about 2 tablespoons). Add 1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon canned chipotles in adobo sauce, and 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, and stir to combine.

Make the tacos:

  1. Place 4 cups water and 2 tablespoons of the kosher salt in a large bowl and whisk until the salt is dissolved.

  2. Using kitchen shears, cut the buds from the huauzontle branch off in 1 to 1 1/2-inch buds or pieces, doing your best to keep the buds intact and only keeping the thin and tender stems. Add to the salt water.

  3. Prepare 12 squash blossoms by gently opening the petals and pulling out the pistils or stamen inside. Add to the salt water. Make sure the blossoms and huauzontle are submerged in the salt water. Let sit for 2 minutes, then drain and rinse.

  4. Place 1 cup of the all-purpose flour in a small bowl.

  5. Place the remaining 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 2 teaspoons mushroom powder, 2 teaspoons black pepper, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Add 12 ounces cold pilsner or lager beer and whisk until smooth. The consistency should be a little bit thinner than pancake batter.

  6. Heat 1 cup neutral oil in a medium cast iron skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat until 275 to 300ºF (drop a drip of batter in to check, it should immediately sizzle). Meanwhile, fit a wire rack over a baking sheet or line a large plate with paper towels.

  7. Bread a few huauzontles and squash blossoms: Drop into the flour and toss to coat. Shake off any excess and then drop into the batter and turn to coat. Let the excess drip off and place on a plate.

  8. Add them to the hot oil and fry until crisp and evenly golden brown, about 20 seconds per side. Transfer to the rack or paper towels and season with kosher salt.

  9. Warm 12 flour or corn tortillas one at a time: Place on a comal, griddle, or pan, over a medium flame on a gas stove or outdoor grill, or in a skillet over medium heat on an electric stove. Cook, flipping occasionally, until it inflates with pockets of air, chars in spots, and is pliable. If your tortillas are a little stale, just spritz some water and put a teaspoon of oil on the heating surface, and they’ll be good as new. Stack together and wrap in a clean kitchen towel to keep warm.

  10. Assemble the tacos one at a time: Spread about 1 scant tablespoon of the chipotle mayonnaise down the center of 1 tortilla. Nestle a fried squash blossom and a huauzontle nug on top. Top with about 1 tablespoon of the salsa, 1 avocado slice, and about 1/4 cup of the shredded cabbage. Serve with a lime wedge for squeezing and hot sauce if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftover salsa, filling, and toppings can be refrigerated in separate airtight containers for up to 2 days.